It’s been some time since I’ve posted a Master Writer blog entry. (See previous entries.) I’m pretty picky about my list of kidlit book authors who’ve mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.
A literary Young Adult novel in the finest and most engrossing sense, Crossing the Tracks is the story of Iris Baldwin, a 15-year-old-girl who lost her mother at a young age, and her father’s attention as well. When Iris’ father hires her out–without consulting Iris–to a rural doctor and his invalid mother, she has to use her grit and heart to find her way home.
BARBARA STUBER’S SUPER POWER
She recreates her novel’s historic period with immediacy, as now time, not the past.
Crossing the Tracks is set in the mid-1920s, but you’re not going to find tired references to mobsters, flappers and bathtub gin. Barbara Stuber has done incredible research and uses multiple techniques to put us smack-dab in Iris’ life.
1. Barbara PLACES PERIOD PRODUCT NAMES throughout her novel:
“After a sprinkle of Pompeian Beauty Powder, I step into my favorite cotton dress that’s white with yellow flowers and lacy sleeves.”
Pompeian Beauty Powder was a real toiletry that ladies used during the time period Crossing the Tracks takes place. Barb shows us the lack of deodorants and antiperspirants at the time, but also finds a powder name that complements the art deco goddess wallpaper in Iris’ room. Every choice the author makes builds atmosphere.
2. Barbara’s WORD CHOICES ARE CONSISTENT WITH THE PERIOD OF TIME SHE IS WRITING ABOUT.
“…my hat and pocketbook thump on the floor.”
“…she fusses, giving her cane a snappy hurry up tap.”
“…Poorly isn’t all she’s going to feel when Cecil finds out…”
While the highlighted words are still in the dictionary today, they are contemporary to the 1920s. (There’s a reason your Grandma uses them.) The trick is to insert just the right amount of dated and/or unfamiliar words. Too much, and you risk producing a parody. Too little, and your characters might as well be living next door to you today.
3. Iris Baldwin grows into a brave young lady–yet she is a creature of THE SENSIBILITIES OF THE TIME. It’s reasonable for her to find the strength to–get to the place where she ends up. (I will not spoil this book for you. It’s too good!) But women were not as open about their bodily functions then as they are now:
“Outside our shoe store window I used to watch ladies, some of them mothers of girls in my class, go into Lowen’s Pharmacy and come out with a bulky sack–their ‘silent purchase’. The store had a system–you put money in a box and took a package of Kotex pads off the counter without saying anything to anybody.”
Nothing screams “fraud” louder than putting millennial ideology in your main character’s head. It’s a disservice to people of the past, who were hamstrung by the mores of the day.
Barbara Stuber’s Crossing the Tracks is on the Kirkus 2010 Best for Teens List and the short list for the ALA’s William Morris Award. It’s an emotionally true story, packed with stunning detail that puts us inside every scene.
And so I declare Barbara Stuber Master of Recreating Her Novel’s Historic Period With Immediacy: As Now Time, Not The Past.